Rio de Janeiro is a continual cultural hotspot and each neighborhood in the city boasts its own unique vibe.
While you’ve probably heard of Ipanema, Copacabana, and even Lapa, there are some other up-and-coming and under-the-radar neighborhoods that you cannot afford to miss out on.
Here’s everything you need to know about Rio de Janeiro’s coolest alternative neighborhoods – find the perfect fit for your style and start planning your next trip.
Best neighborhood for lovers of the outdoors, jungles and brunch
Jardim Botânico is the gateway to the Tijuca National Forest, the largest urban rainforest in the world, replete with waterfalls, hiking trails and breathtaking lookout points across the Marvelous City.
Thanks to its jungle-backed location, this primarily residential neighborhood is also overrun by tropical plants and tiny monkeys that run along the powerlines.
You’ll find some of the city’s best restaurants along the tree-lined streets – check out La Bicyclette for brunch or JoJo Café Bistrô for oysters and champagne.
This neighborhood also has two of our favorite tourist attractions – the Jardim Botânico that gave the neighborhood its name and Parque Lage, a historic Italian-style palacete (mansion) built in a manicured jungle with an art school and cafe.
While there aren’t many tourist accommodation options in Jardim Botânico, staying here will give you a great insight into what it’s like to live in the city, not just visit it.
JB is ideally located near main sites like Cristo Redentor and Pão de Açúcar, and it’s just a short drive to the Praça Mauá, but you’ll have limited public transportation options. There are no metro lines in the area but you can get around using bikes, buses and ride-shares.
Best neighborhood for history, urban culture and nightlife
The most up-and-coming neighborhood in Rio sits just north of the city’s center, in a formerly industrial zone that was once relatively abandoned.
Following the urban revitalization of Praça Mauá, Gamboa has developed into Rio’s newest cultural center. Visit the breathtaking new Museu de Amanhã, the jewel of Mauá’s revitalization, and its neighbor the Museu de Arte Rio (MAR).
Follow your cultural adventures with lunch at Café Tero, located at the entrance to the Morro de Conceição quarter, and take a moment to stop at Cais do Valongo, an archaeological site marking the arrival point for enslaved Africans trafficked by European colonizers.
Explore the urban art scene at the Fabrica Bhering before taking a tour of the fabulous Cidade do Samba. For a night out, head to Pedra do Sal and Bafo da Prainha, followed by a stop at Bar Dellas or an all-night rager at The Home or Sacadura 154.
Fun though it is, we don’t recommend booking your accommodation in this ultra-urban zone. Instead, enjoy everything the neighborhood has to offer and then head back to your hotel on the other side of the city for a peaceful night’s sleep.
The best neighborhood for bars and a thriving LGBTIQ+ scene
With a plethora of new offerings, grabbing a drink in Botafogo is the best way to end a day at the beach or start a night out.
Some of the coolest bars on the scene include Quartinho, where Thursday night tunes draw a crowd; Chanchada, a for-girls-by-girls LGBTIQ+ specialty; and Buteco Treme Treme, another LGBTIQ+ favorite that keeps going all night long.
Post-beach is best at Baixo Botafogo, or head to Fuska, one of four bars lining the intersection of R. Cap. Salomã and R. Visc. de Caravelas. The scene kicks off just after sunset as thirsty beachgoers search for a happening watering hole.
Botafogo is also home to an excellent culinary scene, with everything from creative vegetarian and vegan cafés – such as Naturalie Bistrô or Vegan Vegan – to two of Rio’s Michelin-star restaurants, Lasai and Oteque.
This is historically a student neighborhood and an easy, well-connected place to find inexpensive accommodations. With the metro, bike lanes and buses aplenty, it’s a great neighborhood to base yourself in as you explore the city.
Best neighborhood for beach-goers
Ipanema, Leblon and Copacabana are the best-known neighborhoods for beachgoers. However, there’s a little enclave at the far end of Copacabana that sits quietly under the radar and is a favorite of beach-goers in the know.
Leme has only a few streets and no through traffic, making the lifestyle even more laid back than along the rest of the strand.
Grab a coffee at chic Gaia Art Café before heading to the beach (choose Rasta Beach to see and be seen). Enjoy a long late lunch at French-style eatery S. Bistro before taking a hike up to the Forte Duque de Caxias and walking to the Bar do David in the Chapéu Mangueira community – twice named the second-best bar food in the city.
Then, head back to your ocean-view Airbnb to rest and recharge before getting ready for another night out in this incredible city.
Leme has a few beautiful beachfront apartments and lofts on Airbnb, which are often much less expensive than Ipanema or Leblon. The adventurous can opt for a guesthouse in the Babilônia or Chapéu Mangueira communities just up the hill – Pousada Estrelas da Babilônia is highly recommended.
Best neighborhood for bohemian vibes
Santa Teresa’s old colonial houses, street art and bohemian lifestyle create a captivating combination and this hilltop enclave is the perfect place to base yourself to explore the city.
Located close to the center, where you’ll find all the museums and nightlife options, Santa Teresa is like a small town in the middle of the city – everybody knows their neighbors, and art and culture spill out onto the streets.
There are heaps of cool local events, like Arte de Portas Abertas, an annual celebration where local artists open their ateliers to visits, provoking art-inspired street parties.
Ride the bonde, Rio’s iconic yellow tram car; watch the sunset over Largo das Neves or at Parque das Ruinas; catch a Monday evening of chorinho (a Brazilian genre of instrumental pop) at Sergio’s, or wander along the shops and bars near Largo dos Guimaraes as the magic of the neighborhood unfolds all around you.
There are plenty of cool accommodation options that are the perfect base for exploring the city – though the neighborhood itself is so charming, you may never want to leave.